An MLIS degree offers myriad career choices, says one proud alumna.
BY TRACY BAUMANN | PHOTO BY SARAH RUBINSTEIN
When she entered the Master of Library and Information Science (MLIS) program as a student in the early 1990s, Chris Jacobs MLIS '96 had never worked in a library. She was a bit anxious about this fact — a story she now shares with prospective students at MLIS graduate information sessions.
Jacobs' career path at 3M Company gives students a first-hand glimpse of the versatile nature of an MLIS degree. After earning a Bachelor of Science in industrial engineering from Iowa State University, she started her career in 1983 as a quality-assurance engineer on the Post-it® Notes product line. After completing her MLIS at St. Kate's, Jacobs worked as a project manager for a 3M information technology group before being tapped to head the technical education group she still manages.
Today, Jacobs spends half her work hours as a librarian in the Internal Knowledge Transfer Group at 3M, doing what she describes as a more typical librarian job. "I help manage large databases that include all sorts of interesting confidential technical information," she says, "and I answer questions and help manage the content."
Jacobs has maintained close ties with St. Kate's. Shortly after graduating, she taught in the undergraduate information management program and later served as an adjunct instructor for the MLIS program, teaching courses such as "Research Methods," "Information-Seeking Behavior" and "Library 2.0 and Social Networking Technologies." She also served as adjunct representative at both the MLIS department meetings and the MLIS advisory council, in addition to her work at graduate information sessions.
With January's announcement that the program had received initial accreditation from the American Library Association (ALA), Jacobs hopes to add to her current roles as MLIS alumna, instructor, representative and cheerleader — by teaching the newly required course "Research Methods for Library and Information Science" and helping develop new courses as the program strives to meet the needs of librarians in a digital age.
How has your MLIS degree helped you in your career? Oh, my goodness, how has it not helped me? Organizational skills are key, no matter what kind of library you work in. You have to under- stand how your organization classifies its information and how your clients classify the information — because it's usually not go- ing to be the same way.
I took lot of reference courses while I was a student at St. Kate's, and the ability to do a good reference interview, whether it's 30 seconds or much more extensive, is critical. It doesn't matter that I don't have what is called a "reference" job. I still have clients calling me or emailing me or contacting me on chat and asking me questions. And I need to be able to ferret out what they need.
You helped design the "Library 2.0 and Social Networking Technologies" course. Why do librarians need to know about social media? Librarians absolutely need to know how social media work, particularly if they work in a public or an academic library — but even if they work in a corporate library like I do.
Your library is going to have a Facebook account. You might be tweeting to a bunch of people. You might be using an online forum or community to communicate with your patrons or with your board or among yourselves.
These days, people are getting most of their information online and are getting a lot of it through social media. So you have to know how patrons found the information they came in with and be able to evaluate those sources and guide them to the best ones.
How is the library science profession evolving? Corporate librarians have a lot of the same issues as public or academic librarians — but not all of the same issues. For example, First Amendment rights are not an issue in a corporate library.
However, security of information is a big issue for all libraries. And access to information crosses all the boundaries: Are we providing the content that our clients need? The digital divide is more prevalent than you would think in a corporate library, because if you work for a global organization, you are dealing with global infrastructures, and you have to make information available no matter what the IT infrastructure is like at the local office. In some of the emerging countries, the infrastructure isn't that good. Just as a public or an academic library has to justify its existence to either the city council or the board of regents, corporate libraries have to justify their existence.
So we are caught in the same cycle as the rest of the libraries in the world. In tight economic times, there is a higher need for information and fewer resources available to deliver that information. None of these issues is new. The current economic situation has made them more in your face, but they have always been there. And I don't see any of these issues changing very rapidly over time.
But information access, the infrastructure for information access and the understanding of what the patron needs will continue to im-prove. And, as a librarian, you have to react to the changing situation.
What do these changes mean in terms of what St. Kate's brings to its MLIS students? I've been very impressed with the way our associate dean and faculty members have been thinking about which elements stay the same and which ones change. There are core principles of library and information science that are never going to change. On the other hand, there are political, social or infrastructure situations that do change. And you need to respond to those situations.
The "Library 2.0" class was a direct response to the changing world of social media. But there are classes like "Research Methods" that I consider to be very critical as a corporate librarian. You will always need to know how to do research and how to evaluate research or manage the research that is going on around you.
How are MLIS students using this degree to advance their careers? St. Kate's grads do so many different things, which is kind of the point of a library science degree. I often help conduct the graduate information sessions with faculty members, and I laugh when I start talking, because I say, "This is the place you should be when you don't know what you want to be when you grow up." If you are interested in too many things, library science is a really good career for you, because it is possible to do so many different kinds of jobs with one degree.
I know graduates from the program who are academic librarians, corporate librarians, public librarians, patent librarians, solo librarians, government librarians, project managers, informatic analysts, researchers, programmers and database administrators, as well as people who are employed by large companies in IT organizations or who work for up-and-coming software firms.
Why is it important for working librarians to teach in the program? Working librarians have a really good grasp of what is going on in their specific field. That is not to say that the faculty aren't aware of these trends, but they are not working full-time jobs in a field.
I am an engineer by background — a very practical field. When I teach, I'm interested in making sure that students know what sort of issues they will encounter when they step into a job and some ways of analyzing or dealing with those situations.
Our faculty members have an astonishing range of skills, but they can't be experts in everything. Plus, I think it's a good way of connecting faculty with the librarians in the area. And that's a benefit to both parties.
What is the core strength of St. Kate's MLIS program? It is a very thoughtful program. Faculty members think about everything they do in terms of the students. They are not asking, "Is this going to advance my research?" They are asking, "Is this going to create a good librarian at the end of the program?"
The leaders of this program are in tune with the values of the University as a whole. Also, the size of the program promotes a great collegiality among students.
You meet many prospective students. What types of people pursue an MLIS degree? There is a changing mix of people coming into the program at the moment, and I think it has to do with the economy. People may not be unemployed, but many more may be underemployed than they were 10 years ago. More students are coming straight out of an undergraduate school than in the past. Generally people gravitate to library school after they've thought about life for a while.
More people are interested in the program now that it is accredited. Right after the accreditation announcement in January, we had the biggest information session I've seen in all the years I've participated. It was over twice the usual size.
Was pursuing an MLIS a good decision for you? I could not have done the job in IT, I could not have done the job in technical education and I certainly couldn't do the library job I'm doing now without an MLIS degree. It really expanded my career horizons in a totally different direction than if I had stayed with engineering.
Tracy Baumann is an MLIS student and a former editor of SCAN.